Mortadella: Please Don’t Call It Baloney

April 20, 2012

Mortadella is not baloney. It is a key product of Bologna, Italy; however, and it is a cooked finely ground pork product studded with cubes of fat and often flavored with peppercorns or pistachio nuts.

Mortadella must contain 60% pure lean loin or shoulder meat and 40% fat. It is flavored with wine, black pepper, and spices such as cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, ginger and star anise. Sometimes pistachio nuts are added — but never in Bologna.

The pork paste is stuffed into a natural casing and then cooked. Cylindrical or oval in shape, mortadella can weigh as much as 220 pounds. Originally, the pork was ground with a mortar and pestle and this may be where it gets its name, from mortaio meaning mortar.

When ready to eat, it is either very thinly sliced and served as part of an antipasto, or it can be made into a filling for tortellini or used as a spuma (lightly foamed consistency) and spread on crostini. It is often cut into thick cubes and served with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Mortadella di Bologna is not allowed in the United States as of this writing, and the domestic brands have nothing in common with the real thing. Domestically produced baloney is often confused with mortadella as well. You will just have to try it in Italy and taste the difference yourself.

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